Our first visit to the state of Alabama started out with a bang—of lightning, that is. The whipping wind in Birmingham warned us of the brewing storm. Then, upon our arrival, Tuscaloosa greeted us with a tornado warning.
That morning was relatively warm. We had just driven from the University of Georgia in Athens to the Atlanta Breakfast Club in Georgia for a delicious soul food breakfast, followed by a stroll through Centennial Olympic Park and Pemberton Place, and finally a stop at the Georgia Capitol. The skies became increasingly cloudy on our drive from Atlanta into Alabama.
Too blustery for a walk in Birmingham’s historic district, we opted to drive along its cobbled road. Vigorously swinging traffic lights downtown were our cue to quickly get to Tuscaloosa, home of the University of Alabama.
We canceled our scheduled tour of the campus, a prudent move as rain pounded under an ominous sky upon our arrival. Settling into our room, Caden set up a video chat for his online class speech.
Not long after, the alarm sounded to warn us of an impending tornado and to instruct us to meet on the main level. Caden excused himself to “take shelter” in the hotel lobby—a first for his online professor. We waited and watched as a dark red squall line on our weather app took its time passing over the area. Although the hotel ceiling sprang a few leaks, fortunately for us, the tornado touched down well enough to the north—and Caden was able to log back onto his class to complete his speech.
The next morning, no longer warm, the storm’s wake left freezing cold temperatures and a very high river. Water completely covered the dock below the Tuscaloosa River Walk where we started our day before heading over to the historic university’s 1,200-acre campus. The sky cleared as we set out on our own to discover a grand setting within the expansive grounds.
The University of Alabama, established in 1820, first opened its doors to students in 1831 with seven buildings including the Gorgas House, the only one to remain.
Only a few of the Antebellum Campus (1828–1865) structures survived the Civil War: the Gorgas House, the Round House (next to the library), Maxwell Hall’s observatory, and the President’s Mansion. It’s said that Louisa Garland, wife of the presiding president, ran to protect the mansion from destruction when the Union Army came to burn down the campus in 1865. It’s still occupied by the university president today.
This original Neoclassical academic village core was arranged around the Quad, which is still the heart of the campus. Today, an axis runs from the President’s Mansion to the Main Library. Within this line, just across University Blvd, is Denny Chimes, a 115-foot Art Deco bell tower built in 1929, which is dedicated to George H. Denny, the university’s president from 1912 to 1936.
The Victorian Campus (1865–1906) was the restoration period that followed the Civil War in which Clark Hall and three other halls were built around Woods Quad in a Gothic Revival style as well as two halls, one on each side of the library.
As the campus expanded during the early 20th century, the university established a distinct, cohesive appearance to preserve its historic character. Locally-sourced red brick exteriors with stone trim and classical columned porticos with deeply recessed entries define the campus’s signature style to inspire learning, “The Capstone” as Alabama’s pinnacle of education was dubbed by President Denny.
Beyond academics, sports are integral to the university culture. Several athletic fields and complexes cover large swaths of the campus. While many state-of-the-art facilities exist here, football is the main staple that serves the city’s identity and economy. The Alabama Crimson Tide football team, established in 1892, is the pride of Tuscaloosa with an entire museum dedicated to its history. Their home at Bryant Denny Stadium, which seats nearly 102,000 people, rises like a fortress from the Walk of Champions.
Students (nearly 40,0000) can jump on the catchy-named “Crimson Ride” bus system to traverse the spread-out campus. Beyond the impressive athletic facilities and academic complexes, a presiding Greek system dominates the landscape. Grand mansions, most the size of hotels, entice students to join the fraternities and sororities housed within them.
Though our visit to Tuscaloosa started in a whirlwind of activity, the university’s charm and grandeur impressed us. Ultimately, Alabama’s southern hospitality prevailed beyond the storm. Friday night was lively with people of all ages at the bars and restaurants in downtown Tuscaloosa. Greek houses hosted parties on their front lawns. We finished out the day with some southern barbeque and a sunset over the brimming river.
Where Legends Are Made… steeped in tradition and success. Legends have been made in our academic halls, on our athletic fields and courts, and in our endeavors to shape a better world through our teaching, research and service.The University of Alabama
- We stayed at Hotel Capstone, centrally located on campus next to the Paul W Bryant Museum with Legends Bistro and Lounge adjacent to the main entrance.
- Bama Bed and Breakfast is a restored plantation-style farmhouse near Bryant Denny Stadium with a game room and screened in porch.
- Dreamland BBQ Northport, just across the river from Tuscaloosa, serves hickory-fired barbeque pork ribs, pulled pork, smoked sausage, and chicken with white bread along with southern sides like mac ‘n cheese, baked beans, and fried okra. Ending with their famous banana pudding is a must.
- The Waysider is the oldest restaurant in Tuscaloosa. This is no-fuss kinda place—though they are on Facebook. We cozied up for a simple southern breakfast with locals in what felt like an old home’s living and dining room. Ask for sausage gravy to go with their fluffy homemade biscuits.
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